On Discussions of Transracial Adoption

by Latoya Peterson

Reader Carleandria sent us this LA Times article over the weekend:

The telephones kept ringing with more orders and although Duan Yuelin kept raising his prices, the demand was inexhaustible. Customers were so eager to buy more that they would ply him with expensive gifts and dinners in fancy restaurants.

His family-run business was racking up sales of as much as $3,000 a month, unimaginable riches for uneducated Chinese rice farmers from southern Hunan province.

What merchandise was he selling? Babies. And the customers were government-run orphanages that paid up to $600 each for newborn girls for adoption in the United States and other Western countries.

“They couldn’t get enough babies. The demand kept going up and up, and so did the prices,” recalled Duan, who was released from prison last month after serving about four years of a six-year sentence for child trafficking.

When we post articles about taking the time to consider children in the adoption discourse, I am always surprised at the number of comments that assume we are anti-adoption (or as one amusingly put it, leaving these poor children to rot) when we believe in listening to perspectives from adult adoptees and adoptive POCs.  The perspectives are quite different from the standard narrative on adoption.  Just check out what Paula, of the Heart, Mind, and Seoul blog had to say:

[W]hy do so many people casually accept (and perhaps even secretly celebrate) it as fate, good karma, a higher power at force, destiny, luck, etc. when a woman who is without a true, just selection of choice or is told that the only real choice she has is to place her child, and believe this to be perfectly acceptable so long as it benefits our agenda?  Our plans.  Our lifelong hopes and childhood dreams.  Why is okay for other women to find themselves in a position to have to make arguably the most God-awful and heart-wrenching, hellish choice or worse – to find themselves WITHOUT choice – when it suits us or those we love?  And why aren’t more of us or more of those we love willing to make the same kinds of sacrifices that we expect, assume, hope and accept that other women will do?

Please let me be clear. I am not trying to make adoptive parents feel guilty, ashamed or regret over their decision to adopt.  I myself, along with my husband, made the very conscious and intentional decision to adopt our son and I know that we personally did not cause or create the circumstances behind our son’s relinquishment.  However, that being said, I absolutely accept responsibility for my role in the collective mindset that this society too often has about portraying first moms in the image that we want them to be, so long that it suits the needs of those who feel that they deserve to be parents, too.  People might not come out directly and say, “Thank God there are women out there who cannot parent their own kids, because without that, I’d never be a mom”, but instead we might hear a more politically correct spin ala “I know that the world is an imperfect place.  But it is what it is.  Should we just let these poor kids starve and die in orphanages?   They need a family and we want a child.  Adoption is the very best solution for everyone.”

And so while we may not exactly be rejoicing in the fact that children are available for adoption, we’re certainly not doing anything to prevent it from happening here or in other countries; well, at least not until we’re able to adopt ourselves.

Maybe at the heart of the issue is the belief amongst many that as long as we love adopted kids “as our own” and promise to do our very best by them and to give them the world and have them not want for anything, that it’s somehow okay to keep averting our eyes away from the cultural, socio-economic, political, societal and religious reasons that we cite to help justify to ourselves why it’s “unavoidable” that women are continuously forced or asked to give up their children.

And when one does a bit more digging into why so many children are given up for adoption, the realities can be grim. Last year, the New York Times published a piece on the stigma mothers in South Korea face when they have children out of wedlock:

Ms. Choi and other women in her situation are trying to set up the country’s first unwed mothers association to defend their right to raise their own children. It is a small but unusual first step in a society that ostracizes unmarried mothers to such an extent that Koreans often describe things as outrageous by comparing them to “an unmarried woman seeking an excuse to give birth.”

The fledgling group of women — only 40 are involved so far — is striking at one of the great ironies of South Korea. The government and commentators fret over the country’s birthrate, one of the world’s lowest, and deplore South Korea’s international reputation as a baby exporter for foreign adoptions.

Yet each year, social pressure drives thousands of unmarried women to choose between abortion, which is illegal but rampant, and adoption, which is considered socially shameful but is encouraged by the government. The few women who decide to raise a child alone risk a life of poverty and disgrace.

Nearly 90 percent of the 1,250 South Korean children adopted abroad last year, most of them by American couples, were born to unmarried women, according to the Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs.

In their campaign, Ms. Choi and the other women have attracted unusual allies. Korean-born adoptees and their foreign families have been returning here in recent years to speak out for the women, who face the same difficulties in today’s South Korea as the adoptees’ birth mothers did decades ago.

One such supporter, Richard Boas, an ophthalmologist from Connecticut who adopted a Korean girl in 1988, said he was helping other Americans adopt foreign children when he visited a social service agency in South Korea in 2006 and began rethinking his “rescue and savior mentality.” There, he encountered a roomful of pregnant women, all unmarried and around 20 years old.

“I looked around and asked myself why these mothers were all giving up their kids,” Dr. Boas said.

Here’s how deep the stigma runs:

Unwed mothers often lie about their marital status for fear they will be evicted by landlords and their children ostracized at school. Only about a quarter of South Koreans are willing to have a close relationship with an unwed mother as a coworker or neighbor, according to a recent survey by the government-financed Korean Women’s Development Institute.

“I was turned down eight times in job applications,” Ms. Lee said. “Each time a company learned that I was an unwed mom, it accused me of dishonesty.”

Adoption is a complicated thing, and there are no easy answers. There is no silver bullet that will solve all of these problems. And we haven’t even delved into the personal stories yet of adult adoptees, and their varying narratives. But we are  concerned for the best interests of children, which may or may not match up with the dominant narrative around adoption.

Update: I wrote this post on Saturday – two more pieces have come in that add additional insight into the aims of this post.

MSNBC reports that a church group is being accused of child trafficking after they attempted to “rescue” children in Haiti and drive them to a hotel (they were converting to an orphanage) in the Dominican Republic:

Ten American Baptists were being held in the Haitian capital Sunday after trying take 33 children out of Haiti at a time of growing fears over possible child trafficking.

The director of the charity now watching the children told NBC News that one child said she still had parents and was only expecting a brief vacation.

He added that a policeman believed the group was trying to sell the children for $10,000 each, an allegation denied by the church members.

The group clearly thought they were doing what was best for the children involved, but that perception doesn’t always match the reality on the ground:

“As far as we know they would have been, I say it clearly, sold for $10,000 each,” said Georg Willeit, who runs the SOS Children’s Village outside Port-au-Prince. “That’s what one of the policemen told us. Every child was very desperate, hungry, thirsty. They all were in a bad condition.”

“One of the elder girls told us, ‘I’m not an orphan. I still have my parents,’” he added. “She thought she was going on a summer holiday vacation given by friendly people from America and the Dominican Republic.”

The church members, most from Idaho, said they were trying to rescue abandoned and traumatized children. But officials said they lacked the proper documents when they were arrested Friday night in a bus along with children from 2 months to 12 years old who had survived the catastrophic earthquake.

MSNBC ends the article by noting that some Haitians would want to give up their children to families in the United States to provide them with a potentially better life.  So there are people who would welcome the assistance of such a group.  The moral of the story here is to check first.

Resist Racism has been on fire with posts about this topic.

About the idea of help:

So here we have all this money, and we have “orphans” in Haiti.  We could fix the problem.  We could provide supplies.  We could help first families stay together.  We could actively solicit kinship care.

And I am sure that there are some organizations working towards that end.  But what we mostly hear about is the “saving” of “orphans.”

Here’s a radical thought:  If some of those “orphans” were relinquished for adoption because their parents could not keep them, how about we airlift entire families from Haiti to the U.S.?  If you’re seriously talking about the welfare of the child, isn’t it best for the family to remain together?

But that wouldn’t serve the needs of those other families.  You know, those good families who wish to save the orphans.  The ones who are putting their power and privilege to work on our government.  So although the country is in shambles, children are being removed.  We’ve put pressure on Haiti’s government, even though officials said “no” at several points.  Because the unspoken quid pro quo is out there:  Do what we want or else.

On the concept of “Orphan”:

“Orphan” is about a relationship that begins with pity.

Pity is a shitty place to start.  And I have deep misgivings about individuals who saw the devastation in Haiti and then felt “moved” to adopt a child.  Because adoption should never be about pity.  It should not be about saving a child.  And it’s not about a feel-good gesture.  It’s about a life change–for both the child and the parents.

On”strings” :

Well, it looks as if parole is being used to avoid those “normal visa-issuing procedures” and to bypass immigration.  And the significant public benefit?  Babies!  Babies for parents!  Yay!  Everybody wins!

I predict significant problems in the years to come.  Remember Allie Mulvihill?  She was brought to the U.S. on humanitarian parole because there were suspicions she was a trafficked child.  No matter.  Her parents got what they wanted.  Her story attracted the intention of somebody with immigration services. Lucky for her.  Otherwise she’d undoubtedly join the ranks of deported adopted persons.  (Video here.)

If children are being removed without Haitian legal safeguards in place, what is the recourse if these same children are later found to have been removed erroneously?  Will the children be restored to their families?  Or will possession be 9/10ths of the law?

Of course, you must think about the children!  What do you want, for more children to DIE?  They CAN’T LIVE under those conditions!  Isn’t it BETTER for them to BE HERE than to be in an ORPHANAGE?

Because those are the only two choices we have.  It’s the same old argument about intercountry adoption.  Would you rather the child grow up to be a prostitute?  Would you rather she work in a factory?  So what if he maintains his culture but has no family?

Because you can’t argue because everybody knows that adult Haitians are poor and clueless or corrupt and incompetent.  But not the babies.  So let’s save the babies.

It’s about giving aid but only on our terms.  The strings attached are the children.

And of course, benevolence by the numbers:

As of January 26, more than 500 “orphans” had been granted “humanitarian parole” to come from Haiti to the United States (source, Department of State).

As of January 31, just 34 people had been granted “humanitarian parole” for medical reasons (one source here, others around the web). It is of course possible that some of those people are children.